Thursday, May 19, 2005


After reading Warren's post below I started thinking about the topic of cheating and, more specifically, I came to the realization that people that cheat here at Boalt don't bother me in the least.

At the start let me say that I have cheated, the last time being in 8th grade Algebra class and I got a C on the final—shows you how good I am at it. In high school, however, I would get really upset when I knew people were cheating. Usually I'd still get a better grade than them, but it still pissed me off. To some extent I always thought they were cheating themselves, after all at some point you'd have to learn the material.

In college I was a physics major, which meant that I was in class with the 4 other physics majors and exams were usually open books, notes, people, and anything else you could think of (it still didn't help me get better than a 31% on my Quantum final). When I was told about cheating in other classes I just thought to myself "those people are going to fail in the real world."

But you know what, that's not true! Nothing has made me realize the true nature of cheating and cheaters better than law school. Cheating isn't wrong because you're getting a better grade for less work (I can point to a lot of people in law school who get better grades on less work than I because they're smarter than me). Cheating is unethical plain and simple. But what one person's unethical is another person's edge—drugs, including caffeine, are a perfect example. There probably isn't a profession on the planet (except for maybe politician—and they're all former lawyers anyway) that lends itself to unethical behavior more than being a lawyer. What I mean to say is that if you want to cheat/act unethically to get ahead in the law you can, and chances are everyone (around you) is doing it also. Which is why it doesn't bother me that law school students would cheat. If you're going to be unethical you might as well practice before you get out and have to earn a living.

That's not to say that I excuse the behavior—I don't. It would be such a better world if people all had the same concept of what constituted ethical behavior (and of course by the same concept, I mean mine). But, I have simply realized that I'm not going to be the type of lawyer who would be unethical in practice, yet I know they're out there and I might as well get used to them while I'm in law school.



Blogger Joe Shmo said...

First, not all exams are open-book. There are closed book exams, and there are take-home exams. Both lend themselves to cheating.

Second, I would not be bothered by other peoples' cheating except for one thing: With the forced curve, it's a zero-sum game, so others' cheating hurts your grades.

For many people at Boalt, grades are irrelevant. But if you want to do a clerkship, it matters a great deal.

Think about how you'd feel if you knew that you were passed over for a clerkship because you fell just short of making Order of the Coif (happens routinely), and that happened because your grades were negatively affected by others' cheating.

Knowing what I know about the value of clerkships (I'm doing one now, and I think it's the experience of a lifetime), I think that would be a serious tragedy.

5/20/2005 8:21 AM  
Blogger Disco Stu said...

Warren, you're catching on. All good points. Alas, there are things you can do with a JD where you can't rely on unethical behavior, clerking and working in academia being among them. And yes, I would get upset if a cheater with manufactured grades took my honest clerkship away from me. However, this doesn't mean that I'd stoop to cheating.

The old saying goes if you can affect the outcome of an event-why worry. If you can't-why worry. I'm not going to cheat to get ahead. I'm not going to turn in cheaters. And I refuse to make myself angry by getting angry at others: There's nothing I can do to stop cheating, so I'm not going to worry about it. I simply rely on EW's statement that the world is too big and let whatever is supposed to happen happen.

5/20/2005 9:15 AM  
Blogger Joe Shmo said...

I don't think you're as powerless as you make yourself out to be. You can have an impact on how your education goes.

If I was aware of something more than the isolated cheating incident, I'd let the professor know about it without naming names. Then I'd encourage the professor to utilize exam formats that made it less likely.

When I was a grad student TA, I became aware of cheating in my classes. As a result, when I became a professor, I took steps to prevent it, e.g. open-book exams. And I had a policy of actively dealing with cheating instead of looking the other way (like many profs do).

When the school uses a strict curve, and in a situation like law school, where the grades can actually matter, I think it's the professor's responsibility to do something about it, purely out of fairness to the honest students. Otherwise the curve becomes a dangerous farce, and they become willing participants in denying clerkships to people who rightly deserve them.

You might courteously (or anonymously) point that out to them.

5/20/2005 10:39 AM  
Blogger Disco Stu said...

Shmo you've made some excellent points. Obviously you have more experience with this than I do. My post simply approached the problem from a general point of view in that I've heard the stories and know that, most likely, some people decided to spend more than the 5.5 hours our prof limited us to on the contracts final. No use worrying about those individuals because I don't know who they are. A fellow contracts classmate put it best when asked if people really stuck to the time limit: You'd like to think so.

5/20/2005 11:05 AM  
Blogger D said...

I have two favorite reasons to act morally. First, we already know we should - complete the syllogism, and absent weakness of will no more is needed. (I really like this one.) Second, as long as we have a conscience, and it bothers us to be radically inconsistent with the moral principles we accept, we'll be happier with our integrity than with more ill-gotten goods. (I think this one is perfectly true, but mostly I like that human nature could guarantee poetic justice in the end.)

If people were bothered more when they realized they have radically inconsistent beliefs, cheating and immorality wouldn't be a problem. Almost everyone gets indignant about certain kinds of immorality that they can't rationally distinguish from their own ethical lapses. When you stop to think about it, a few basic moral principles rule out a lot of bad acts. There are a few true amoralists out there, but very few.

Finally, some suggestions for the amoralists out there who see that we are happier than you are: Read Pascal, or go to church, or brainwash yourself into believing that other people matter just as much as you do. Or all three. Once you bootstrap your way into having a little integrity, you'll be a happer (and better) person for it.

And to the amoralists who manage to be happy anyway: that's what rules and punishments are for - I hope you get caught.

5/20/2005 5:53 PM  

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